As the next wet season approaches, Fiji Roads Authority (FRA) work is moving as fast as it can to get the roading network into better shape before the rains come.
“Ask a roading engineer about the top three things that damage roads, and the answer you’ll get is water, water and water,” says Adam Jackson, Maintenance Manager for the FRA’s engineering consultant, MWH Global.
“On sealed roads, the seal becomes brittle over time and loses its water proofing properties. Once roads that are not sealed lose their shape and start retaining water they become much harder to maintain.”
The work that is happening all over the country has very positive impacts on the day-to-day life of thousands of people, many who have waited for decades, before the establishment of the Fiji Roads Authority, for roads to be repaired or upgraded. Pre rainy season works also help the roads perform better and last longer.
So far this year FRA maintenance contracts alone have resealed over 80km of sealed roads, rehabilitated over 12km of sealed road and upgraded over 100km of gravel roads.
There is more to come over the next few months, with a significant amount of work planned in Northern Division and the remainder of the sealed road programme being completed in Central and West.
In the past, buses became trapped on dirt roads in the rainy season. Thanks to new gravel laid on the roads last year, things are now moving smoothly in all weather.
For some, the solution will mean just a new layer of seal or gravel. However a very large backlog of Fiji’s sealed roads require full rehabilitation – a costly and time consuming process involving re-digging drainage ditches, repairing or replacing culverts, fixing soft spots and re-shaping the road. In some cases, the road will also be widened to accommodate increases in traffic volume.
While the time commitment and costs for these ‘rehabs’ are high, the pay-off is big. Once the work is done, the roads are more economical to maintain in the future, maintenance costs on cars and public transport vehicles reduce, and transport is smoother and more reliable country-wide. Roads can also be repaired more quickly after storm events.
Some roads, however, have issues that can’t be addressed in a matter of months.
An estimated 400km of sealed roads throughout Fiji can no longer be maintained effectively through patching and/or resealing. These roads require the next step up – complete rebuilding. Often, these are programmed behind those that just require a fix. With just 35km a year on the ‘fix’ list, the rebuilds will take some time to get through.
Mr Jackson says the order that roads get prioritised can be a complicated process.
“Many roads have already gone well beyond their serviceable life and are in bad shape,” says Mr Jackson “These are usually main roads or roads that are used by high volumes of traffic. We are trying to make sure that the money spent on these roads has a positive impact on the most people possible.”
The impact from floods and cyclones also causes setbacks –two tropical depressions earlier in the year created $15m of road infrastructure damage, which will take time and resources to repair and rebuild well into 2015.
The FRA approach when recovering from these storm events is to ‘Build Back Better’ – to improve the condition, durability and reliability of the road infrastructure so that it lasts longer, is quicker to fix if there is a problem, and can be relied upon by people to get to where they want to go.
Mr Jackson explains that this can mean a lot more than the work that people see happening day to day –but the benefits to the country are longer lasting, too.
“Specialist equipment and services are being brought into Fiji to address some of the issues that previously kept the quality of work at a low level. These include dedicated washing and pre-coating plants for sealing chip, new crushing equipment, new stabilising equipment and training of staff to better use the tools and the materials we have.”
“The emphasis is on contributing to the long-term development of local talent, skills and businesses. Local workers are being trained in their operation, and learning valuable new skills that will benefit them, the companies they work for, and Fiji’s own self-sufficiency in the future.”
Alongside the pre-wet season road works are significant drainage improvements that will ensure these works last the test of time. The work is programmed to be substantially complete by the end of October.
About MWH Global
MWH Global is the premier solutions provider focused on water and natural resources for built infrastructure and the environment. Offering a full range of innovative, award-winning services from initial planning through construction and asset management, we partner with our clients in multiple industries. Our nearly 8,000 employees in 35 countries spanning six continents are dedicated to fulfilling our purpose of Building a Better World, which reflects our commitment to sustainable development. MWH is a private, employee-owned firm with a rich legacy beginning in 1820. For more information, visit our website at www.mwhglobal.com or connect with us on Twitter and Facebook.